Page last updated at 17:37 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 18:37 UK

Israel to allow cement into Gaza

A Palestinian youth walks through a polluted stream near Gaza City (13 June 2009)
Sewage works have not been repaired due to a lack of materials

Israel has authorised a one-off shipment of hundreds of tonnes of cement and building materials to the heavily embargoed Gaza Strip.

It is the first official transfer of such goods since Israel's operation early this year in the coastal enclave.

Many Gazan buildings damaged during the offensive have not been rebuilt because of a shortage of building materials.

Officials told the BBC that a flour mill, as well as sewage, electricity and water facilities would be repaired.

A senior Israeli official said the 130,000 tonnes of cement was part of Israel's "ongoing policy to support Gaza's civilian population and to make sure humanitarian needs are met".

One of the projects, he added, was the reconstruction of the flour mill in partnership with the UN's relief agency for Palestinian refugees (Unwra).

The shipment is part of a reconstruction plan drawn up by Robert Serry, the UN envoy to the Middle East, said Israel's Haaretz newspaper.

'Civilians punished'

Boy carrying water, Khan Younis, Gaza (09.06.09)

Gaza has been under a strict Israeli blockade since Hamas seized control in June 2007.

Some basic foodstuff and medicine are allowed in. Other items including cement, steel piping, fertilisers and cars are banned, and many others are restricted.

Israel says steel pipes and fertiliser can be used in the production of the rockets fired into Israel by Palestinian militants, while cement can be used to build rocket launch pads.

The stated aim of the blockade is to weaken Hamas's leadership but aid agencies say it serves only to punish the civilian population.

UN officials have repeatedly urged Israel to end its blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory.

They say at least 40,000 tonnes of cement are needed just for schools in Gaza.

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